2 Corinthians 9:1-15 - Ministerial Encouragement for the Communion of The Saints
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NKJV)
Once More: Arrangements for the Collection (Read 9:1-5)
The Corinthians' initial readiness to contribute to the needs of Jerusalem believers was the subject of Paul's boasting to the Macedonians. In fact, the Corinthians' early zeal had aroused the Macedonian Christians to give so freely and sacrificially.
Yet, this Corinthian readiness had not yet matured into performance. And that was the reason for the three-man committee sent ahead (see 8:16-23), whose mandate included raising the promised funds. You see, Paul was intending to visit Corinth shortly, taking along some fellow-believers from Macedonia. The apostle and his companions risked being embarrassed if the Corinthians failed to make good on their intention to share in the collection for the Jerusalem saints.
Interestingly, the apostle explains his motive further in verse 5, and at the same time builds a bridge to what follows: 'Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.' The KJV renders the italicized clause, 'as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.' The notion here is that if the apostle and his Macedonian companions were to come to Corinth without those preparatory arrangements, the congregation would be caught unprepared and would be inclined to give its gift from a sense of religious extortion. Because their hearts would not have been in their giving, their 'generosity' would proceed from covetousness — giving, indeed, but not really wanting to do so.
The Manner of Grace-Filled Giving (Read 9:6-8)
Generosity, the apostle has been explaining, is a gift, an ability proceeding from divine grace. Therefore, it should reflect the character and essence of that grace. God's grace is limitless, abundant, free-flowing. Our giving should be like that.
To make his point, Paul employs a metaphor: giving is like sowing seed in a field. This comparison teaches us the significant lesson that, just as when a seed is sown, it is not lost, but only hidden temporarily from view, so too the gifts we give for the Lord's work, if they proceed from a gracious heart, have power to multiply unto a rich harvest.
All of this echoes the Old Testament, where centuries earlier this wisdom about generosity had been formulated in three related proverbs:
There is one who scatters, yet increases more;
And there is one who withholds more than is right,
But it leads to poverty.
The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself.
The people will curse him who withholds grain,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. Proverbs 11:24-26
Not only do we reap what we sow, but we reap in the same measure that we sow. And this measure is judged not first in terms of quantity, but in terms of the quality of our hearts. Are our hearts more like a dripping faucet, or an open river of blessing toward others? Must our hands be pried open because our hearts are pinched tight by the fear of parting with our hard-earned money? Or are we, like the Macedonian Christians, in danger of giving away more than we can really afford? (Question 1)
Christian giving is first of all a heart matter. This is made especially clear in verse 7: 'So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.' With regard to this collection for benevolence, Paul isn't interested in setting a 'budgeted amount' or a 'quota' for the Corinthian believers, for he realizes that giving in terms of such an external standard can so often proceed from duty instead of delight, from the grudging obligation commonly associated with 'paying bills.'
The real mark of free, open-handed giving is cheerfulness. The giver ought to find pleasure in giving. Giving should be an exhilarating experience, because it generates spiritual happiness within donor and recipient alike. The standard for giving, therefore, is the intention of a heart moved by grace, saturated with love for God and the fellowship. (Question 2)
From One Miracle to Another (Read 9:8-9)
From description Paul moves to promise-filled prediction. This divine grace is able both to spur believers to generosity and to supply their needs in all things. Notice how comprehensive God's generosity is toward His children, expressed by the apostle with a heaping-up of 'alls': 'And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work' (v.8). If that confidence doesn't make us cheerful givers, nothing will! God's miracle of harvest, whereby the seed sown in generosity is multiplied in blessing upon others, is exceeded only by the miracle of inexhaustible resources! Generous Christians always have more than enough for their own needs! That was demonstrated to the widow of Zarephath and her son, as they ministered to God's servant, Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:8-16). And the same promise holds for God's children in every age.
Reaching back into his Bible once more, the apostle quotes from a poem pronouncing a beatitude upon 'the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments' (Psalm 112:1). Such a person 'has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be exalted with honor' (Psalm 112:9).
Generosity toward fellow-believers, you see, is a matter of righteousness. It was commanded by God through Moses (see Leviticus. 25:35 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11). And here in 2 Corinthians, Paul continues the charitable teaching of the law, the prophets and the psalms, while at the same time going beyond by appealing to the added incentive of being recipients of God's grace in Jesus Christ, God's own 'indescribable gift' toward us (see 2 Corinthians 9:15). The righteousness of these Corinthian believers must — and can! — match that taught in the Old Testament covenant administration. Moreover, this righteousness consists of kindness toward co-believers, concern for the poor and afflicted, preached repeatedly by the prophets and redemptively by our Savior (see Matthew 6:1-4). (Question 3)
Divine Grace Magnified Through Grace-Filled Giving (Read 9:10-14)
Would you care to see still more of God's grace? It's all summarized for us in verse 10. We've already learned that generosity is a gift of divine grace, and that the miracle of harvest comes from heaven itself. Paul now prays that the God who provides natural seed for sowing and bread for eating will multiply the spiritual seed sown through the Corinthian congregation's generosity. This spiritual seed will, under God's gracious rain and sunshine, produce a harvest of righteousness, enriching the Corinthians for all kinds of liberality and producing through the apostle and his colleagues hearty thanksgiving to God.
God's grace grows, as it were, and spreads out like a garden vine, full of luscious fruit which itself contains seeds for another planting and harvest. The cycle of grace imitates the cycle of nature, or perhaps better stated: the 'laws' of redemption mirror those of creation.
This ministry of mercy is an exercise of the communion of the saints. According to verse 12, its effect is twofold: it supplies the material needs of the saints, and generates thanksgiving toward God. The second is the aim of the first, while the first is surely an important avenue toward the second. Here 'the material' and 'the spiritual' are joined together, as believers place 'nature' into the service of 'grace.' This is the profound mystery lying at the heart of our calling 'to employ [our] gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and salvation of other members' (Heidelberg Catechism, QA 55). Christians are called to place themselves, their possessions, their talents and abilities, all in service to the salvation of other church members. Not that we cooperate with Jesus Christ in 'redeeming' people or activities or culture, but rather that we, along with our possessions temporarily entrusted to us by God, are serviceable to Christ's final redemption of them one day.
As if looking ahead to the time when the Jerusalem congregation would receive their gift with rejoicing, Paul sees the church in Palestine glorifying God for the Corinthians' obedience to the gospel of Christ, and for their liberality.
Don't let this little note escape your attention. Remember that most of the Jerusalem believers were Jews, while most of the Corinthian Christians were Gentiles. Proof of their common confession and allegiance to Christ (notice that Paul omits our Savior's personal name, and uses only His official name, Messiah-Anointed) lay in the sacrificial benevolence given by the Corinthians and received by the Jerusalemites. More than that, it would spur the Jerusalem Christians to pray for and love their Gentile brothers and sisters in Corinth.
Generating all of these results, and more, this collection would be an expression of true unity and catholicity among Christ's churches in every place. (Questions 4 and 5)
The Source of Every Good and Perfect Gift (Read 9:15)
So moved is the apostle by thinking of these things that he ends with an outburst of praise, a one-line doxology: 'Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!'
This gift is Jesus Christ Himself, God's only-begotten Son, His beloved Son.
Indeed, who can really describe God's heart, the depth of His generosity, the cost of His sacrifice, the dimensions of His love?
There remains only one application: 'Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another' (1 John 4:11).
Questions for Reflection and Reply
Do you agree that Christian giving is first of all a matter of 'how,' and not of 'how much'? Can we really separate these two? Won't the quality of our giving be proven also by the amount?
Mention ways to improve our cheerfulness in giving.
If our righteousness must and can match that taught in the Old Testament, discuss:
Why is tithing the Christian's required minimum?
What should the tithe be a tenth of?
Why don't many Christians give at least a tithe?
Review 2 Corinthians 9:10-14, along with our lesson discussion of these verses, and explain how the following are affected by grace-filled giving:
Christ's redemption of others
May we give with a view to the consequences or effects of our giving on others? Why (not)? If so, what are some dangers to watch for?